S & C In Good Hands With Aaron Hillmann

When Illinois hired Tim Beckman to be the new head football coach, it precipitated many additional changes in the program. Among them was hiring a new Strength & Conditioning staff, led by Aaron Hillmann. Following a well-respected predecessor might have scared off some candidates for the job, but Hillmann appears to be thriving in his new surroundings.

Aaron Hillmann woke up one day in charge of a large, well-equipped weight training room at the University of Illinois.

"The weight room is incredible. Everybody tells me it's the biggest football facility in the country. I'm very fortunate because it's well-equipped. We've had to make only minor changes to things, and that's more personal preference than anything else.

"This is an unbelievable opportunity for me. Not just to work in this weight room, but to work at the University of Illinois. And to work in this conference."

Hillmann first met head coach Tim Beckman while working in a similar capacity at Bowling Green.

"I've known Coach Beckman since 2001. It was an easy decision to come work for Tim because one it's Tim, and two it's the University of Illinois."

He follows Lou Hernandez, who in seven years at Illinois made a strong impression on everyone. Hillmann respects his predecessor but is not intimidated by the thought of following a respected leader. Illini players have positive memories of Hernandez.

"As well they should. The kids have been fabulous. They are a very coachable group. I tell them everyday I appreciate how they come in. The cupboard wasn't bare here.

"One thing I appreciate about these kids and about the previous coaching staff, these kids give great effort. That's a learned behavior, so I'm very fortunate. I have all the respect in the world for Lou Hernandez, Coach (Ron) Zook and all the things that they did."

Hillmann is secure in his own body and feels no need to make comparisons with what transpired before he arrived on campus.

"I wasn't coming in trying to compare what I do to what they did. I didn't feel any obligation to make the program similar. I do what I do because I believe in doing it, and I've been doing it for a while. It's based on sound scientific principles, and I'm engaging the kids with my own personality. Every day, I don't try to be anybody but Aaron Hillmann.

"The kids have been very receptive. The program that we do is actually intuitive. It's very simple in the weight room. And the things that we did with Coach Beckman's competitions is very basic. The simple fact that it's competitiveness nurtures that great effort. It also nurtures engagement with each other and teamwork, all the other good things that come with competition."

When asked his philosophy on weight training and conditioning, Hillmann felt a need to define terms.

"In terms of exercise, I'd say philosophy has more to do with your art of coaching. In terms of philosophy of what methods and means you use for a physical preparation standpoint, I think the literature is pretty clear. Everybody's got some different personal preferences, and we refer to that as philosophy, which it is really not. It's really more how you view the coaching world and your art of coaching.

"My philosophy is very direct. We're going to concentrate on giving great attention to detail in whatever it is we do. They're expected to give great effort within the confines of those details. One of their minimum obligations is to engage in the process, engage with each other, engage with the program."

Motivating the athletes to work hard and perform their best is a primary aspect of Hillmann's job description.

"One of the things I tell them every day that it is an advantage that you get to play at the University of Illinois, with all the traditions involved with that. You get to play on a team.

"Finding motivation, if you just take your head out and realize where you are and who's to your right and who's to your left, who's in front and who's behind, you close your eyes for a moment and feel the ghosts of tradition here. Wow, motivation is everywhere."

In part two of this five-part report, Hillmann continues talking about his role as Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Illini football program.

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